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O Christmas Tree

It’s a thing of beauty. There, in your living room, covered in twinkling lights, glistening ornaments and shiny tinsel. It is a thing of memories past and future. It is green and aromatic. It is your Christmas tree.

In a few short weeks it will be brown, brittle and just something to discard. But that doesn’t mean it’s unwanted. In fact, your old Christmas tree is very much in demand.

For the ninth year, Christmas trees are being recycled into nutrient-giving and water-saving mulch for area parks and public gardens. The recycling program is a joint effort by local government agencies, area businesses and volunteers.

Every tree makes a difference, said Tara Pike-Nordstrom, solid waste and recycling manager and sustainability coordinator for the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. “If you look at it as drops of water in a bucket, and if we all do it, then we’ll fill the bucket.”

She believes donating old trees to the recycling program continues the season’s spirit of giving.

“Getting trees given to us so that we don’t have to buy mulch, that’s huge to me.”

Annalisa Helm, an education specialist at the Springs Preserve, said the mulch is used at places such as the Springs Preserve, Sunset Park, parks in the cities of Henderson and North Las Vegas, as well as at the Nevada Division of Forestry state tree nursery.

Not only do the recycled trees help the environment by being transformed into mulch, they help by saving space in the landfill for items that cannot be recycled.

“When Christmas trees are thrown out with the trash after the holiday season, they end up in the landfill where they take up valuable space. While the tree will eventually break down, it does not provide any environmental benefit after the holiday season. When someone recycles their Christmas tree, it is chipped into mulch, which is then used in landscaping projects around the Las Vegas Valley to help control dust and retain soil moisture,” Helm said.

Since the program’s inception in 2001, Las Vegas Valley residents have recycled 78,754 trees, saving 10,500 cubic yards of landfill space and creating 685 tons of mulch. Last year, about 12,000 trees were recycled and transformed into 117 tons of mulch.

Each year since 2006, the program has recycled at least 10,000 trees.

Though that sounds like a lot of trees, it is only a small percentage of the approximately 250,000 that are sold in the community each year, according to the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension.

“By doubling our efforts to recycle all possible items, including Christmas trees, we can each play a role in extending the life of our existing landfills rather than filling them up with recyclable materials at an ever-increasing pace,” Helm said.

“It may seem as if artificial trees are a sustainable alternative to farmed, fresh-cut Christmas trees, but actually the opposite is true,” said Aaron Micallef, education program supervisor at the Springs Preserve. “Artificial trees are often imported from thousands of miles away utilizing fossil fuels to get here and when they wear out they ultimately end up in a landfill. Recycled fresh-cut trees are returned to nature as mulch, helping to beautify our local parks.”

The recycling program begins Dec. 26 and continues through Jan. 15.

Pike-Nordstrom said the cutoff date helps spur people into action. Last year, they had a woman bring in her small tree for recycling in May – and it had been up and decorated since Christmas.

Having a dry tree in the house is a fire hazard, Pike-Nordstrom said.

In addition to focusing on Las Vegas residents, this year, with the help of tree lot operator Linda Maplethorpe, the Christmas tree recycling program is putting special attention on tree lot and retail operators, asking them to recycle unsold trees.

Trees can be brought to any one of 21 locations in the valley. Or, for a $30 fee you can arrange to have your tree picked up by 1-800-GOT-JUNK?, which will also vacuum up any pine needles in the home. Those who book an appointment online at www.1800gotjunk.com to pick up their tree will receive a $10 discount.

Before dropping off trees, all nonorganic material, such as lights, ornaments, wires, tinsel and nails, must be removed. Flocked trees cannot be recycled.

There is no cost to participate in the recycling program.

Additional information can be obtained by calling 822-7705.

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